As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Deepening Afghan Nightmare

This looks to me like a good pivot point to up and end involvement in Afghanistan.

A U.S. jet dropped 500-pound bombs on two tanker trucks hijacked by the Taliban before dawn Friday, triggering a huge explosion that Afghan officials said killed more than 70 people, including insurgents and some civilians who had swarmed around the vehicles to siphon off fuel.

Germany, whose troops called in the 2:30 a.m. strike in the northern province of Kunduz, said it feared the hijackers would use the trucks to carry out a suicide attack against its military base nearby.

We are completely in over our heads here. Once again we've allowed amorphous terms like "victory" to define our military involvement instead of achieving realizable goals. So a war initially based on dismantling Al Qaeda becomes a war to build a nation and protect an ethnic class. The country held an election that could lead to outbreaks of violence and unrest, as our man in Kabul is clearly corrupt and ineffectual. Tribal factions with no tradition of a central government have vowed armed conflict if Hamid Karzai is allowed to stand after multiple examples of election fraud. You could have a situation where the government is threatened by a popular uprising, leaving the US troops no clear guidance on how to react. And on top of that, dozens more civilians are bombed from above, leading to more alienation and more desire to drive out the occupiers. The latest in a series of after-the-fact inquiries will do us no good. Meanwhile, more Americans die every day without an articulated rationale.

The divisions in Afghanistan are mirrored by the divisions at home. Top advisers appear to be split on whether to add even more troops. Dick Holbrooke and Hillary Clinton look to be on the side of more troops. Robert Gates has been worried about the foreign footprint in Afghanistan but appears open to escalation. Joe Biden, no dove, is leading the group in the White House opposed to a long-term commitment, which is what escalation would signal. Inside the Pentagon, at least some officials will not acquiesce to Gen. McChrystal's request for more forces without major scrutiny. And in another sign that Obama would only have Republicans behind him if he orders more troops, Senate Democrats are not enthused by the prospect of deepening our commitment.

Speaking on a day when a U.S. bombed tanker trucks hijacked by the Taliban killing 70 people, including some civilians, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the U.S. must focus more on building the Afghan security forces. His cautionary stance was echoed by Sen. Jack Reed, who is also on the committee and spent two days in Afghanistan this week with Levin.

The senators will return to Washington next week, just as Obama receives a new military review of Afghanistan strategy that officials expect will be followed up by a request for at least a modest increase in U.S. troops battling insurgents in the eight-year-old war [...]

"There are a lot of ways to speed up the numbers and capabilities of the Afghan army and police. They are strongly motivated," Levin said from Kuwait. "I think that we should pursue that course ... before we consider a further increase in combat forces beyond what's already been planned to be sent in the months ahead."

Levin said there is a growing consensus on the need to expedite the training and equipping of the Afghan army to improve security in Afghanistan, where 51 U.S. troops died in August, making it the bloodiest month for American forces there since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.

In a separate call, Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said the U.S. must use a multi-pronged approach: build up the Afghan Army, send more civilians to Afghanistan to provide economic and political assistance, and reach out to Taliban supporters who are willing to recognize the Kabul government.

This is actually just a fantasy, a hope that more Afghan security forces can reduce our troop numbers. It doesn't talk about the policy itself, which as a true counter-terrorism strategy would focus on intelligence and law enforcement and containing terrorist activity to within the borders. As Chuck Hagel said very expertly this week, foreign policy is not an abstraction. We are committing real lives and real treasure to this effort, and trying to impose our will on a nation which has no interest in mimicking us.

Accordingly, we cannot view U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through a lens that sees only "winning" or "losing." Iraq and Afghanistan are not America's to win or lose. Win what? We can help them buy time or develop, but we cannot control their fates. There are too many cultural, ethnic and religious dynamics at play in these regions for any one nation to control. For example, the future of Afghanistan is linked directly to Pakistan and what happens in the mountains along their border. Political accommodation and reconciliation in this region will determine the outcome.

If the antiwar movement is truly planning a fall campaign, they should invite Hagel. He is as perceptive and cogent on this issue as anyone. Right now it appears that the DC establishment, while always tilting toward war, is split. The progressive groups who could engage the masses in a very powerful way are reluctant to challenge the President on his policy because, to be honest, they don't feel confident talking about foreign policy and national security. But the greatest organizing opportunity in recent progressive history, what brought Democrats the Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, was opposition to the war in Iraq. It galvanized a movement and made history. Moreover, it was the right thing to do. It's time for Americans to decide whether to agree to what amounts to endless war or not.

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